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Don't Let Romance Bankrupt You This Christmas

09/12/2016 16:03 GMT | Updated 09/12/2016 16:04 GMT

The run up to Christmas is a golden time for engagement ring sales. If you listen carefully on Britain's high streets you can hear jewellers rubbing their hands together as clueless shoppers wander the streets looking for the perfect diamond ring in preparation for a New Year's proposal.

It can be a terrifying prospect and there's a real risk of spending way more than you can afford and starting January with a heap of debt...and a wedding to plan.

Most of us have probably heard the 'tradition' about spending a month's salary on an engagement ring, or is it two months? Or three? And is that before or after tax?

My first piece of advice for bemused buyers is to be bold enough to ignore such traditions. After all, they were created by diamond sellers and you can't help feeling they might have a vested interest. Instead, look at what you can afford and do some research so you know you are getting a good deal - whatever you decide to spend.

If you on a shoestring budget after a Christmas spending spree, I'd suggest scouring the second-hand market. Diamond rings drop in value faster a sports car leaving a showroom, so you can expect to pick up a £1000 high street ring for as little as £200-£300. Look for one which was only worn for a few days or weeks and comes with the original receipt and certificate. It sounds rather mercenary but there is no shortage of like-new diamonds out there.

Of course, if your potential spouse is the kind of person who carries a rabbit's foot in their pocket then they may be superstitious about used jewellery.

Another cheap alternative is to avoid diamonds altogether. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds all make attractive engagement rings on a budget of under £300.

Shoppers on a budget closer to £500 will find that they can afford a lower quality diamond ring in the high street, or something higher quality if they are willing to buy from one of many online jewellers.

Shoppers spending £1000 or more will have more choice and can pick up something a bit more substantial.

Bear in mind that the profit margin on high street diamond rings is substantial, so half price sales and discount codes are common. You'll get the best deal if you can bide your time and keep an eye on prices over a few weeks.

But how do you sort the dazzlers from the duffs in the world of diamonds?

Before you snap up an apparent bargain, look at the diamond's grading certificate which should include carat (weight), colour (rated from D-Z, with D being white), clarity (a description of its imperfections under a microscope) and cut (how much it sparkles under light).

Whilst grading is important, I wouldn't get too obsessed over minor differences between two diamonds. Even a lower or mid-priced diamond will provide an attractive sparkle and your potential spouse is unlikely to produce a magnifying glass to count the imperfections (if you think they might, I'd question what you are letting yourself in for!).

Besides the diamond, you'll also need to choose the metal for the ring. The most common options are 9 carat gold, 18 carat gold and platinum. There isn't much visible difference between 9 carat and 18 carat gold, so it's an area where you can save some money if you aren't fussy about the prestige of owning more gold. Platinum's main advantage is that it is harder wearing and doesn't lose its colour, but it is usually much more expensive than gold.

Good luck, I hope the answer is yes...